The 36 solo sailors in the Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard Cachemire have spent a day at the helm, as much of today's second stage racing became a test of speed.
To keep in touch with the leaders each skipper found themselves hand-steering for long hours as they surfed the Bay of Biscay swell.
They kept the power on throughout a day of 18-20 knot south-westerlies and kite reaching north. An unstable breeze bringing lighter patches arrived later in the day and combined with residual chop, made maintaining boatspeed a challenge. After yesterday’s start in Gijon, today was definitely a busy day at the office with almost 24 hours sailing under spinnaker.
The leading duo of Nicolas Lunven (Generali) and Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) remain just a hair’s breadth apart on the rankings – and just a few hundred yards apart on the water – Lunven to the east of his near rival. In third Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), on a more easterly track, has overtaken Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls), whose strong showing so far will no doubt be some consolation after he was forced to abandon the first stage.
Within four miles of the leader, stage one winner Yann Elies (Groupe Queguiner – Journal des Entreprises) is very much still in the hunt as the front-runner of a large group to the south-east of the leaders, although he reported autopilot problems which reduced him to using his reserve pilot.
First of the British skippers is Nick Cherry (Artemis 77) in 23rd place, with Sam Goodchild (Artemis 23) around three miles south-east of him three places back. Henry Bomby (Artemis 37) has reported that his instruments are now fixed and he is back racing, however he is currently around 25 miles adrift of the leaders.
With the leaders around 60 miles from the Raz de Sein they are predicted to arrive at this key section of course around midnight. After a gybe the fleet will have around 10 miles of sailing to windward with those who make it though the tidal gateway in time likely to find themselves separated into an elite group from those who arrive too late, as Sam Goodchild (GBR, Artemis 23), explained: 'We should reach the Raz de Sein by Monday night or early Tuesday morning. The current is favourable until about 8 o’clock in the morning, so the chances are if we are really quick the fleet will compress and if we are really slow there will probably be an expansion in the fleet.'
Tomorrow’s conditions are forecast for a south-westerly Force 4, with a swell of around 1.5 m off the Brittany coast and a smattering of rain. The breeze is likely to moderate over the course of the afternoon to a Force 3 as the fleet approaches the Vendée and their finish port of Saint Gilles Croix de Ville.
Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls): 'It couldn’t have been worse. I got hit by somebody, and then I made a mistake. I got an individual recall on the start line. I'm glad to be back in the game, it's more fun being in the lead than behind. I prepared by telling myself that the goal was to go as fast as possible. I was the first to accelerate and to get out of the Spanish light winds. I spent the whole night at the helm, and I'm still there. I’ve been helming since yesterday afternoon. We can’t see anything, it’s completely white. The closest to me is Erwan Tabarly but I do not really see him as the visibility is poor, I'm like alone in the world. We had a well established wind and it felt great. Here there is a high pressure section, the has wind dropped and we are trying to sail in the residual swell. I guess the wind will be coming back, if not it will be a long time. We should arrive at the Chaussée de Sein during the night and after there we will have to manage the current at the tip of Brittany. I figure we’ll be able to grab some sleep after Sein.'
Yann Eliès (Groupe Queguiner - Le Journal des Entreprises): 'I am pretty busy. My main autopilot is out of order. I managed to put my safety pilot on. For now it’s okay even if it is slightly less powerful but it should do the trick. I have had a bad start but I worked like mad to be back ahead. However, four boats managed to overtake me and escaped from the east during the ridge and are thus a bit ahead by now. They are at least 4 miles away. I slept well last night. I'll try to find the breakdown as soon as I hang up.'
Vincent Biarnes (Prati'Bûches): 'I'm happy, even though I did not really get a good start from Gijon but I managed the light winds pretty well. It enabled me to come back on the leading boats. There are still 100 miles before reaching the tip of Brittany, and nothing is yet decided. We'll have to hold on and be patient. The wind shifts a lot: we had 20-25 knots just now and it’s going lighter. It may take a little longer than expected even though it won’t remain like this forever as the wind should be back soon. It is quite hard, the sea is rough and there is very little wind. We did not get much sleep since the start, we had to be on deck during the high pressure zone and then, downwind, the autopilot was not really good. I forced myself to go and sleep anyway. I lost a bit on the leaders, I was overtaken by two or three boats, including Yann (Eliès) and I'm a little disgusted. He is the only one who managed to get back by crossing the west of the ridge and he continues to fight back.'
Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire): 'I’ve been in the right pack from the beginning, which is satisfying. There are four who managed to escape but I'm right behind and glad about it. I spent a lot of time at the helm but I still managed to sleep a little even though I knew that I was losing a bit; I knew we won’t be able to sleep much this night when passing the Raz de Sein. The autopilot was helming well even when it was windy. It is still grey all around – there is a cold front that has just passed us, or maybe we passed it. Then the wind suddenly fell, to 9 knots and is quite erratic. I know it should be back and then we should sail straight towards Brittany.'
Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat): 'It's going OK... we just spent a late night in light winds. Morale is good as I had a good start in Gijón. There are two boats ahead but not so far away, the rest of the fleet is behind so I'm quite satisfied. I slept a little, not much, two or three naps. I'll sleep when we will sail on reaching, that will be a good time to sleep. Wind conditions vary widely, between 10 and 20 knots, it rains a little, we do not have much visibility in these conditions and we must helm a lot. Until Sein, we will not have many opportunities but there will be some current so we should be able to play a little in the Iroise Sea. The passage past the Raz is going to be quite delicate, as we do not yet know if the current will be favourable or not. There will be lots to do at that point but afterwards it will be straight to the finish and we will have to be focused and ready for the finish line.'
Damien Guillou (La Solidarité Mutualiste): 'I completely missed the start and the inshore leg! I was not doing well at the Radio France buoy. Finally I managed to come back squarely, I caught a shift and it went well. I made good progress last night. However, we have to be really careful as there are some light wind areas on our way and it could come back at us from behind. I'm pretty tired because I have been helming all night, I tried to sleep, I lay down, but did not manage to sleep. There is more sea than wind, the boat is difficult to sail, we must stay awake but I'm tired. It is foggy – sometimes there is some rain, it just stopped, I have very little visibility, but I can see some boats not that far away; Yann Elies is in front of me, Banque Populaire and Prati'Buches are downwind. It’s now a speed race and no real option until Sein, just speed and you cannot let go, you need to move fast or you see the repercussions immediately.'
Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat): 'The highlights of this race ... it's difficult to say because it's not that fun aboard Gedimat. I tore my big spinnaker early in the night. I had already ripped it during the first stage, it had been repaired but it did not last. I was in the main pack yesterday but since then, I see the competitors overtaking me from the right, and the left, but I do not have the proper sail. It's not ideal to continue. It made a bang and split in two halves. It really jeopardises my leg and the overall ranking so I'm disappointed. I do what I can to keep up, but I cannot compete with others. It is disabling, you lose 20 square meters and an average speed of 0.5 knots on 24 hours...'
Henry Bomby (Artemis 37): 'I was going along under spinnaker, the wind was just starting to build and all my instruments turned off. I looked on the gyro-pilot and it had a button error, my pilot switched off and I went into a broach because I wasn’t at the helm at the time. So I had to get the kite down... and after maybe an hour, hour and a half I managed to find the right wire to pull out and I’m currently sailing under pilot again. I’m keeping on pushing, but it sucks. I’m just going to keep going and keep pushing and hope for a compression, and hope the time difference isn’t too bad on the rest of the fleet. I currently have 18 knots from the south-west and am making nine knots dead running towards the Sein. I think we’ll get there in maybe 12 hours, 0200 is the predicted time.'